BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Leaders of the European Union appealed to Britain and Poland on Tuesday to show political courage and compromise on a new treaty to reform the bloc’s creaking institutions amid mounting Polish threats of a veto.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said there would be “very negative implications” for the EU’s single trade market, solidarity among member states and economic cohesion if a summit next week failed to agree on a replacement for the constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005.
“In the end we need political leadership, and I think the message that comes out of this is a strong plea to member states to work in a sprit of compromise,” he told a conference of European and national parliaments.
In an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Barroso noted that Poland sought solidarity from its EU partners in disputes with Russia on energy and meat exports.
“But solidarity is a two-way avenue,” he said.
His call came after Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski stepped up threats to derail any agreement at the June 21-22 summit unless it gets a change in the proposed voting reform for EU decision-making, which he contends is unfair to Poland.
“We have the right to use it (the veto) and we will do it if we believe that it is in our country’s interest or Europe’s interests,” Kaczynski told a news conference on Monday.
Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier of Germany, trying to broker a deal as holder of the EU’s rotating presidency, struck an optimistic note despite the rhetoric from Warsaw.
“We are not yet at the end of the road, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel,” he told the parliamentarians’ gathering, speaking of new momentum in the talks. “If we are to succeed then everyone has to move.”
Both the German minister and Barroso said there was a widespread wish to strengthen provisions for EU action on climate change and energy security in a new treaty.
Steinmeier signalled a willingness to accommodate the needs of states such as the Netherlands, Poland and the Czech Republic that want to give national parliaments more power to send back draft EU legislation that impinges on national prerogatives.
He also voiced sympathy for dispensing with references to EU symbols such as the flag, anthem and public holiday, which arouse anxieties about a creeping European super-state.
But he appeared to reject British efforts to ditch a Charter of Fundamental Rights that was incorporated in the constitution, saying it would not give Brussels greater powers over member states anyway.
“I believe the vast majority is in favour of its legally binding character without necessarily extending the scope of the powers of European institutions in that area,” Steinmeier said.
Barroso raised publicly for the first time the idea of an opt-out for Britain from closer police and judicial cooperation, telling the IHT: “As a rule, to have opt-outs is not good. But if it is the solution, I will not be against it.”
A member of Britain’s ruling Labour party, Michael Connarty, said Britain would have to hold a referendum, which would likely be lost, if the treaty transferred any competences to Brussels.
“Stop lecturing us about how we should come to your position,” he urged the EU leaders, saying they should appreciate the “Herculean efforts” of outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair to bridge the gap between constitution supporters and those countries that were unable to support the text.
additional reporting by Mark John